Tiding over these uncertain times: Lakshadweep, our project and us
by Prerana Gawde and Ajithraj
Island systems are fragile and prone to global and local scale challenges like natural disasters, the effects of climate change, and social and ecological vulnerabilities. These challenges can have multidimensional impacts on the course of the islanders’ life, and the existence of the islands themselves. The COVID-19 pandemic is a new addition to the list of challenges that these islands face. As researchers working on India’s Lakshadweep islands, but currently involuntarily hibernating on the mainland, we wondered – how are they coping with the pandemic?
Our team studies Lakshadweep’s sustainable pole and line tuna fisheries. We are primarily working towards facilitating participatory fisheries management in the islands through community-based interventions. It requires a sustained on-ground engagement with the people there. In February 2020, we had plans — continuing our interviews, meetings with various fisheries stakeholders, and researcher-based, in-water surveys of baitfish, which islanders use to fish tuna. However, the national lockdown put an unprecedented, ad infinitum break in our project activities.
Nevertheless, we have tried to overcome these uncertainties by modifying our methodologies and strategies. Tapping into the network of local fishers, boat owners and government officials that Dakshin has developed and sustained over the years, we could conduct interviews over the phone with these stakeholders. Engagements over the phone came with its own set of challenges and weak cellular connectivity and limited conversation time. However, the presence of one of our team members, Mahaboob Khan, on the islands, facilitated the rest of the team’s work to some extent.
The Lakshadweep islands are one of the most densely populated regions of India. When the pandemic induced national lockdown was declared, the Lakshadweep administration strongly restricted travel – both inter-island and to mainland India, which has helped them remain COVID-free till now. The Islands’ fisheries are strongly dependent on the mainland markets for revenue. Reports from the field indicate that until recently, the prolonged lack of access to markets has negatively affected the livelihoods of various fisheries stakeholders.
Due to shipping restrictions, we also had to call off our annual community outreach calendar, but we have started working on the 2021 calendar. Apart from using this time to communicate about our work through social media and popular articles in English and regional languages, we are also exploring potential opportunities to improve our program through new projects. In a post-COVID world, we expect considerable restrictions on travel, funding, research and social interactions and hence recognise an urgent need to reassess our field engagement strategies that factor in these new scenarios and to have a contingency plan for conducting fieldwork remotely.
We would like to thank Mahaboob Khan for the image.